Office of Veterans Affairs

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November 18, 2010 -- In today's battle for jobs, one group of people now has an advantage when applying for work with the city of Houston military veterans.


City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to support an executive order by Mayor Annise Parker that gives hiring preference to veterans.


"All things being equal, if you have a veteran and a non-veteran, you hire the veteran," said Parker, who signed the order on Veterans Day.


Parker said she was motivated by concerns about the "epidemic of suicides" and rising homelessness among veterans.


"We want to do what we can to make Houston a safety net," she said.


Veterans are the only group to receive such preference in the city's hiring process, said Roderick Newman, a division manager for the city's Human Resources department.


Harris County is home to an estimated 190,000 veterans, according to Department of Veterans Affairs data.


"These men and women coming out of the service are focused, they're disciplined, and that should be a benefit to the city of Houston," Parker said.


Special preference

Similar veteran hiring preferences exist in other states and the federal government, but not in Texas, and not in the form the program will take in Houston, said city attorney David Feldman, an Army veteran.


"The preference that Houston has actually is pretty unique in the country," Feldman said.


The typical program gives additional "preference points" to veterans on an entrance examination or applicant ranking system, he said.


"What I've seen in other cities is the preference points, but I didn't come across anything like what we came up with here," Feldman said.


"What we're saying is that all factors being equal, the vet gets the job, and you just don't see that," he said.


Houston's city government is so large with so many different types of jobs and hiring processes that it would be impossible to make the preference work by some kind of point system, he said.


"This makes it much easier, simpler to define what the preference is," he added.


The need for a hiring preference was reinforced by the experiences of soldiers with Houston's 72nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a Texas National Guard unit that returned from Iraq in August, said Buddy Grantham, director of Houston's Office of Veterans Affairs.


Jobless as civilians

More than 28 percent of the 3,000 soldiers who deployed to Iraq with the 72nd reported problems with civilian employment. About 23 percent were looking for work, and about 7 percent said they had trouble with their employers.


"Unfortunately this is coming at a time when the city is going through some budget constraints," Grantham said. "As the economy ebbs and flows, it will be in place to help veterans."